Photo Credit: Nati Shohat / Flash 90

Low-income New Yorkers are about to get some help with their utility bills.

Governor Kathy Hochul has announced that a total of $567 million is available to help low-income electric and gas utility customers pay off past utility bills.

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The financial assistance program includes an estimated $557 million statewide COVID-19 bill credit program for low-income customers adopted today by the New York State Public Service Commission.

Under the program, utility companies will be required to provide a one-time credit to customers enrolled in the Energy Affordability Program to eliminate unpaid utility bills that have accrued through May 1, 2022.

The program also authorizes the same relief for any eligible low-income customers that enroll in EAP by December 31, 2022.

“It’s unacceptable that far too many New Yorkers are at risk of having their lights shut off for failure to pay their utility bills due to financial problems caused by the pandemic,” Hochul said.

“To address this, I partnered with the State Legislature to appropriate $250 million toward reducing the burden of utility arrears. Today’s action by the Public Service Commission builds on the budget appropriation and is a major step forward to help vulnerable New Yorkers maintain their utility services while they get back on their feet.”

The COVID-19 pandemic caused significant financial hardship to low-income customers and resulted in the shuttering of businesses and widespread loss of jobs.

More than 327,000 low-income New York households will directly benefit from the program.

“The pandemic placed many families in insecure financial situations, forcing so many low to no-income families to make painful decisions about whether to pay their utility bills or put food in their children’s stomachs,” said Lieutenant Governor Antonio Delgado.

“Today’s announcement will provide eligible low-income customers with the electric and gas arrears relief they need to help get them back on their feet.”

Under the bill credit program, all State assistance available for utility bill assistance will be coordinated “to ensure maximum benefits to ratepayers and to avoid duplication of efforts,” the governor’s office said.

This one-time, low-income utility bill credit, which will be applied to affected customers’ bills by the utilities, requires no action by existing low-income customers enrolled in the EAP to receive the benefit, Hochul’s office emphasized.

The bill credit is expected to be applied to customers’ accounts by August 1, 2022.

As part of the overall work to reduce unpaid electric and gas utility bills, Hochul recently launched a new initiative between OTDA and the major utilities to identify more low-income households eligible to enroll in the EAP program, which provides utility bill discounts that save participating households hundreds of dollars per year on utility costs.

Any newly eligible low-income customer that enrolls in EAP before December 31, 2022 will be included in the bill credit program.

Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance Commissioner Daniel W. Tietz said, “While our state’s economy continues to rebound, one thing is painfully clear: many low-income New Yorkers are still struggling to pay down utility bills accrued during the public health crisis.

“In addition to providing immediate relief to households enrolled in the Energy Affordability Program, this effort will help identify many others qualified for and in need of assistance,” he said.

“Families across New York State are increasingly cash-strapped, trying to pay off utility arrears accumulated during the pandemic while also keeping up with rent and the cost of putting food on the table to feed their families,” Assembly member Linda Rosenthal noted.

“In this year’s budget we fought hard to ensure funding would be made available to low-income families to help eliminate utility arrears, and I’m proud that the new utility bill credit program builds on this investment to provide more than $550 million in relief.

“More than 327,000 low-income households will soon see their utility arrears reduced or eliminated, protecting them from having their utility services terminated. This investment will go a long way in helping New York families get back on their feet and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.”

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Hana Levi Julian is a Middle East news analyst with a degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from Southern Connecticut State University. A past columnist with The Jewish Press and senior editor at Arutz 7, Ms. Julian has written for Babble.com, Chabad.org and other media outlets, in addition to her years working in broadcast journalism.
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